Kickstopper: Big Trouble In CyberChina

by Arthur B

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a textbook example of how you do videogame Kickstarters right.
Back when I started doing these Kickstopper articles, the first one was for Shadowrun Returns, a rather successful bid to redeem the Shadowrun IP on the videogame front. I’d actually played Shadowrun: Hong Kong, its sequel, a while back, and had even written the review, but I inadvertently didn’t get around to posting it. Better late than never, though…

Usual Note On Methodology

Just in case this is the first Kickstopper article you've read, there's a few things I should establish first. As always, different backers on a Kickstarter will often have very different experiences and I make no guarantee that my experience with this Kickstarter is representative of everyone else's. In particular, I'm only able to review these things based on the tier I actually backed at, and I can't review rewards I didn't actually receive.

The format of a Kickstopper goes like this: first, I talk about the crowdfunding campaign period itself, then I note what level I backed at and give the lowdown on how the actual delivery process went. Then, I review what I've received as a result of the Kickstarter and see if I like what my money has enabled. Lots of Kickstarters present a list of backers as part of the final product; where this is the case, the "Name, DNA and Fingerprints" section notes whether I'm embarrassed by my association with the product.

Towards the end of the review, I'll be giving a judgement based on my personal rating system for Kickstarters. Higher means that I wish I'd bid at a higher reward level, a sign that I loved more or less everything I got from the campaign and regret not getting more stuff. Lower means that whilst I did get stuff that I liked out of the campaign, I would have probably been satisfied with one of the lower reward levels. Just Right means I feel that I backed at just the right level to get everything I wanted, whilst Just Wrong means that I regret being entangled in this mess and wish I'd never backed the project in the first place. After that, I give my judgement on whether I'd back another project run by the same parties involved, and give final thoughts on the whole deal.

The Campaign

The Shadowrun: Hong Kong Kickstarter was a bit more of a sure bet than the original, and wisely Harebrained Schemes didn’t try to get overambitious with it. With the previous game having been released and offering a stable foundation to build on, Harebrained could concentrate mostly on delivering improvements here and there to the game play and really going all-out on the writing. As such, it was little surprise that the Kickstarter funded as easily as it did - success breeds more success on Kickstarter, after all. It earned about $600,000 less than the previous one - $1.2 million instead of $1.8 million - but that still accounts for a large number of satisfied customers returning for more.

What Level I Backed At


* A DIGITAL copy of the Shadowrun: Hong Kong game for Windows, Mac, or Linux through your choice of Steam, GOG or Humble. Retail price: $20. (DRM-free versions available, too!).

* Also includes the Shadows of Hong Kong 4-5 hour Mini-Campaign!

* ALL THE MUSICS! Digital downloads of the SOUNDTRACKS from Shadowrun: Hong Kong, Shadowrun Returns, and Shadowrun: Dragonfall.

* A Desktop Wallpaper for desktop, phone, and tablet devices.

Delivering the Goods

Harebrained are a competent crew and by this point had got their process down to a fine art; they estimated game delivery in August 2015, the game was released in August 2015. That’s absolutely stellar by the standards of videogame Kickstarters.

Reviewing the Swag

Shadowrun: Hong Kong

Years ago, you and your ork buddy Duncan Wu were street kids struggling to survive in a bad part of Seattle. Raymond Black, a wealthy businessman from Hong Kong, took you in and became your foster father, and tried to bring you up right. (It is up to you to decide to what extent he succeeded.) One day, you left home to embark on a dangerous mission (how altruistic or selfish this mission was is, again, down to you). It didn't go well, and you ended up shut away in a corporate-owned jail to rot until a corporate reshuffle and accompanying shift in priorities prompted them to let you go. Almost as soon as you get out, you get a message from Raymond urging you to come to Hong Kong and meet him there.

Arriving, you encounter Duncan, who has now become an officer in Lone Star, a private police corporation, along with his superior officer and his thoughts on your life choices. You do not, however, find Raymond - instead, you find a group of Shadowrunners, who Raymond has hired for protection. Before you can head out to rendezvous with Raymond, Hong Kong police special forces snipers attack, and only you, Duncan, and two of the Shadowrunners - the dwarven hacker Is0bel and the orkish rat shaman Gobbet - survive the encounter. Tapping into a news bulletin, you discover that an APB has been put out for all four of you - and Raymond has been reported killed.

To evade the APB for any period of time, you and Duncan need to erase your SINs - your identity records that constitute your legal identity. That involves excising a lot of data from a lot of databases, and there's only one person with that sort of clout in Hong Kong who will even talk to you - Kindly Cheng, a local triad boss who employs Gobbet and Is0bel’s Shadowrunning team regularly. For her part, Cheng is deeply annoyed that some of her favourite agents just got wasted, so she's glad to help erase your SINs and uncover what is going on - so long as you pay your way by doing some Shadowrunning for her. How happy you are to go outlaw and make a life for yourself in the shadows is down to you; Duncan is deeply upset but goes along with it because it's the only hope you have of figuring out what happened to Raymond - and what he wanted you for.

Whatever it was is something to with Kowloon Walled City - not the long-since demolished original, but a new housing project which ended up bearing the same name on a satirical basis after it garnered a truly awful reputation for being a fundamentally mismanaged monument to mortal misery. It isn't long before it becomes clear that the new Kowloon Walled City’s feng shui is deeply wrong - and not accidentally, either. But why would the developers deliberately make such a sinkhole of bad luck and desperation? One thing is sure: in a city-state where the division between the megacorporations and the government doesn't exist even as a comforting illusion, there's always work for a Shadowrunner.

Just as the Kickstarter campaign itself was largely an exercise in repeating a successful process a bit more smoothly, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is essentially Shadowrun Returns with a new setting and a sweep of incremental improvements. The quality of the writing is especially excellent, particularly in the way it manages to have its cake and eat it when it comes to giving the player character a particular backstory but allowing you to put enough of a personal spin on it that it doesn't feel restrictive. Consistently, it's down to you whether you think Raymond was a beloved father or an interfering douchebag whose life lessons you comprehensively rejected; likewise, it's your call whether you went to corporate jail on a point of principle or for flat-out larceny, or whether you are an eager and willing Shadowrunner or are desperate to try and claw your old life back.

Personally, I went with the “eager criminal who has utter contempt for Duncan’s naive clinging to principles of law and order in a world where those ideas have been irretrievably pissed away” angle, mostly because I found Duncan annoying, and was glad to see that whilst he personally might gripe, the game doesn't present anything which overtly makes Duncan’s position seem objectively right or yours as objectively wrong. Deep, meaningful interactions are possible with your other team members, along with associated side quests unlocked under the right circumstances.

Another good aspect of the writing is the way the writers don't default to male NPCs constantly (a whole swathe of women are involved at all tiers of society and all stages of the plot), and manage to include enough diversity in background to underscore the multicultural nature of Hong Kong in 2056 but to have enough Chinese characters present (especially in positions of authority) to make it clearly a Chinese-majority community. The use of feng shui as a plot element may steer close to cultural appropriation for some, but I think it would be far worse for Shadowrun to depict a world where only Western magic and folklore has emerged from the margins and become an overtly powerful force - plus, where the stories involve such bits of Chinese culture they are given a respectful place at the heart of the plotline rather than being tacked on for cheap flavour. I am not Chinese or from Hong Kong, so I can't really say whether the depictions there are egregiously wrong, but they are at least not wrong in such a blatant way that I could point at them and say “Hey, that isn't right.”

As far as the prominence of organised crime/corporate rule stuff goes, that's a basic axiom of the setting - you get the same forces predominating wherever you go in the world of Shadowrun, and Hong Kong is presented as being no exception. As such, local organised crime is given the appropriate local aesthetic and features without Hong Kong being presented as being any more vulnerable to organised crime than Seattle or Berlin (both of which are namedropped as being their own distinct flavour of hellhole), and of course the megacorps are ubiquitous transnational concerns so it makes sense that you get the same corps showing up here as in the rest of the world.

In terms of gameplay it's much the same as the previous games, with a fair amount of imagination and variety involved in the sort of skirmishes you get into. The most obvious change is in hacking, where rather than tackling ICE in the VR matrix essentially always being like a fight in meatspace, there's more opportunity to use good timing to avoid fights, and hacking some components involves fun puzzle minigames which make it feel a bit more like hacking a system.

As is often the case in CRPGs, exploration and talking to people are often rewarded - in particular, you have an opportunity to get leverage over the final boss if you talk to the right people and learn about the right bits of folklore. As in the previous games, the epilogue text is suitably mutable based on your choices and which optional quests you get, so you feel like your choices meant something. The game is also just the right length, more or less - there's enough meat in there, especially when it comes to side missions, to make it a satisfying experience without the plot becoming so padded out as to become onerous.

Between that and the provision of a brace of new resources for creating homebrew levels, and you have the best game in the series yet. It doesn't do anything radically different; it just does what the Shadowrun Returns line has done all along, only better. Plus, as in Dragonfall, irritating canon NPCs are mostly absent.

Shadows of Hong Kong

This is a short bonus campaign unlocked as a Kickstarter stretch goal. Following on from the main campaign, it allows you to tie up a couple of loose ends through a handy plot contrivance: a secret investigative unit within the police has captured your group, and strongarmed you into helping them take down the corrupt cop in charge of the ambush at the start of the main campaign, giving you a chance at payback and an opportunity to restore the SINs of you and Duncan. Kindly Cheng is happy for you to go along with the revenge angle, but has her own agenda - one which, if you follow it, will leave you running the shadows forever.

This is quite a short mini-campaign - if you ignore the brace of side-missions you could burn through it in a day - though it does at least offer some interesting challenges for highly experienced Shadowrunners. This is the main draw, really; the writing is a bit sparser and less deep and rich than the main campaign, and the closure offered is mostly closure of a nature I didn't feel like I needed - though if you roleplayed differently in the main campaign and played your character as someone who desperately wanted their life back, you might appreciate the chance to do that here. Though my feelings on playing a character in a game who really doesn't want to engage with the signature activity of said game are well known by this point.

Higher, Lower, Just Right or Just Wrong?

I’d say Just Right, to be honest - I didn’t particularly feel the need to get any tie-in novels or tabletop RPG PDFs added to my reward, so I didn’t go any higher than the $15 tier.

Would Back Again?

If Harebrained are going to do more Shadowrun videogames, they can count on me and my wallet showing up.

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Comments (go to latest)
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2017-06-30
Never played Shadowrun, and unless I get infinite time at some point, I probably never will, but I enjoyed that article as usual. A couple miscellaneous points:

(a white swathe of women are involved at all tiers of society and all stages of the plot)

This typo had me very confused for a minute.

I can't really say whether the depictions there are egregiously wrong, but they are at least not wrong in such a blatant way that I could point at them and say “Hey, that isn't right.”

I need to file this description away for future use.
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